Monthly Archives: June 2012
He was debating Stephen Douglas about the issue of slavery. Douglas believed that each new territory or state should be allowed to decide whether it would permit slavery. Lincoln believed that the nation as a whole should take stand. At the time, a lot of people believed whites to be superior to blacks and that owning another person was justified based on skin color and bank account size.
We all know who eventually won that debate. But even after the slaves were free, too many people still believed in a superior race. And, for more than century, too many laws reflected their beliefs.
Now, more than 150 years later, I wonder how history will portray the politics of 2012 when the United States is once again a house divided.
Only this time, instead of being divided over slavery, we are divided about the purpose of government. But there is also an underlying debate very similar to the one being waged during the Civil War.
Too many people still believe that some individuals are superior to others. Only instead of color, they are claiming superiority based on the size of their bank account or their employment status. We have become a country that is debating whether we measure success in terms of dollars or in terms of human rights. We are debating whether accumulating possessions is more important than ensuring access to health care. And we are even debating whether or not poverty is a moral issue.
This has never been more apparent than with the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Health Care Act is Constitutional.
The fact that people have different opinions about the decision doesn’t bother me. I expect that. Different opinions are healthy. What bothers me is the judgmental comments and self-righteous outrage that some people expressed.
I was particularly struck by comments from a public school teacher who said the Supreme Court’s decision was immoral. She followed this by saying “I work for a living. I don’t want my hard-earned dollars to support people who depend on the government.”
Since a public school teacher depends on the government (i.e., taxpayer dollars) for her paycheck, I was dumbfounded. I wonder how she would react if the country engaged in a debate about the importance of education and whether we are infringing on taxpayers rights by requiring them to pay for education.
At some point, our country embraced the belief that education is a right that every child deserves. We even took that concept a step further and mandated that children stay in school until a certain age.
If the issue were being debated now, there’s no doubt some people would be screaming that requiring children to go to school is unconstitutional and that hard-working taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for the education of others.
Thankfully, most people recognize the importance of education, the benefit it has on a person’s future and the positive impact on a community’s economy. The same benefits can be attributed to access to health care, so I’m not really sure why we are so divided about the issue.
But we are.
Instead of debating how to help people, we are debating whether or not we even should. Take, for example, the comments of the previously mentioned public school teacher who claimed the concept of the Affordable Care Act is immoral.
Last time I checked, helping others was the definition of morality, not immorality.
But logic isn’t everyone’s strong suit. Many of the same people advocating for personal responsibility are also outraged that the individual mandate is part of health care reform. As explained to me, the purpose of this mandate is to encourage responsibility by requiring people to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty to help cover the government’s costs.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Affordable Care Act is perfect, but at least it’s a statement about what a lot of people think is important. Actually, most people probably think access to health care is important. The dividing issue is about whether it is important for all Americans or only those who have employers or bank accounts that can cover the costs.
The debate isn’t going to end anytime soon. And with the presidential election season getting into full swing, discussions will get even more discordant.
I just hope that whatever the outcome, Americans can look back at the repercussions of this time with pride rather than shame. I hope we can say this is a time we stood up for the rights of all rather than for the benefit of some. And most of all, I hope we don’t divide and even burn down our house with our heated differences.
I love to string together words in a way no one else ever has. I love to put forth ideas in creative ways that make people think. And I love to feel that maybe, just maybe, what I write makes a difference in the life of someone else.
Today, I’m not feeling that love at all.
In fact, I hate the topic about which I’m writing.
But events over the last few weeks have left me no option.
Friday, after a 20 hour deliberation, a jury found former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of child molestation.
I know people cheered. I know people declared justice. I know people expressed relief that Sandusky is going to be locked in jail for the rest of his life.
Personally, I’m not feeling much elation.
Don’t get me wrong. If Sandusky had been acquitted, I would have been livid. What bothers me is how easily his crimes were swept under the rug for years, even though so many people must have sensed something just wasn’t right.
What bothers me is how easily people were silenced by the job Sandusky held, and how he literally bought more silence by feeding into the growing materialist nature of our society.
What bothers me is that victims didn’t have the knowledge, self-esteem or support to ensure Sandusky was behind bars years ago.
What bothers me most is I’m not at all surprised.
This isn’t an isolated case. Child sexual abuse has been occurring for years, and, for the most part, society has chosen to turn the other way.
I recently read the book Miss America by Day by Marilyn Van Derbur. It’s not a book I would have normally even glanced at, much the less picked up from a shelf. But I’d attended a workshop about how anyone can help prevent child abuse, and Ms. Van Derbur, along with other abuse survivors , was in the training video.
Something about her passion spoke to me, and she’s still speaking to me.
Ms. Van Derbur was Miss America 1958. She was also molested from the age of 5 through age 18 by her father, a wealthy and well-respected member of the Denver community. To the outside world, her family was perfect. To perpetuate this perception, Marilyn’s mother looked the other way. And, for years, Marilyn even repressed the abuse.
But now, she’s an advocate whose message is simple: preventing child sexual abuse isn’t primarily the responsibility of social services agencies, law enforcement or the courts. It’s the responsibility of all of us.
We need to eliminate our preconceived notions that child abusers are easy to identify.
We need to recognize that community leaders, religious leaders and sports leaders are just as likely to be predators as anyone else.
We can’t allow children to be alone with an adult just because that person is trusted by others.
We need to listen to our children and not dismiss their fears, concerns and even silences.
We have to be willing to talk about sensitive issues, such as sex and abuse, so the children feel comfortable talking to us.
We need to look beyond appearances and examine behavior.
Most of all, our outrage needs to be expressed long before an individual has molested multiple children and is on trial.
Our outrage should begin the moment a child communicates they are they least bit uncomfortable with another adult. Period.
Until then, when we see or hear about a conviction, we can cheer and proclaim justice all we want. But if we look away when we think the alleged perpetrator is too well-connected or that no one we know would purposely hurt a child, then all we are really celebrating is good old-fashioned denial.
This week, Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor for uttering the name of a body part.
She, unlike her male colleagues, actually has that body part.
Personally, I’ve said the word countless times. I’ve taught my kids that it’s an appropriate word, unlike the slang terms that are often used. I’ve even attended a play that features the word in the title and in the script.
But I don’t want to get banned from writing or labeled an extremist, so I’m not going to actually include it here.
I know that’s sad.
But sadder still is that, in 2012, a woman was reprimanded for saying it.
I shouldn’t be surprised. This has been an especially bad year for women.
Access to birth control has been threatened. Equal pay for equal work is being discounted. Ridiculous and invasive medical procedures (procedures that actually include the banned word) have been considered for legislation.
And women who stand up for their rights have been called sluts (because that is apparently not as offensive as a the name of a body part) on a nationally syndicated radio show.
I’m not just feeling belittled and a bit angry, I’m feeling frustrated.
I thought women were making progress. I thought the country was making progress. I thought individuals were important regardless of how much money they make, where they were born, what their sexual orientation is or, most important to me, what sex organs they were born with.
But since we are now engaged in a debate about what words are and are not appropriate to say during a political debate, I’d like to propose five that shouldn’t be part of any discussion.
1. Socialism. In recent years, this term has been used to perpetuate divisiveness and bitterness. It is being used to suggest that it is not American to believe those who have more resources have a responsibility to help those who are struggling.
2. Obamacare. I don’t believe that access to health care should be the responsibility (or fault) of one particular party or individual. It’s about all of us. Health care reform is complicated and hard to understand. But quality, affordable health care is also critical (and currently not accessible) to too many Americans. I have family and friends who have had cancer, high blood pressure and chronic sinus conditions. These are all pre-existing conditions that can drive personal health-care costs sky high. Most of my professional life I’ve been in jobs that either didn’t offer health insurance or offered it at an incredibly high price. I’m a very hard-working person, and I take extreme offense at being told that I don’t deserve the same access to health care as some one who has a different employer. Let’s be rational and talk about the issue rather than about specific politicians and leaders.
3. Christian. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have the greatest respect for God, religion and faith. But America was established on religious freedom, and we are going backward when we make any one religion the basis for laws. Of course our laws should be based on moral and ethical principles, but most religions are based on strong values. Let’s not marginalize people of different faith by holding up Christians as the only religion that counts.
4. Undeserving. This word makes my heart hurt. By using it to broadly describe any group of people is unfair and incredibly biased. It is also very effective. It allows some people to pat themselves on the back for being deserving while belittling people who are different. People hit hard times for a wide variety of reasons, many of which are beyond their control or rooted in a childhood that never gave them a chance. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set expectations for people or encourage them to take care of their own needs. But lets provide them with skills and opportunities rather than blame and labels.
5. Penis. If vagina isn’t allowed, then we shouldn’t be allowed to say penis either.
Whoops. Did I just say vagina? There go any hopes of a political career.
Hopefully, I will still be allowed to share my thoughts and opinions. And hopefully this post doesn’t get deleted as a result of actually naming a body part.